“The Greatest Rock N Roll Story Of Our Generation” NME
“They were the band that put raw, unpolished rebellion back into British rock’n’roll and swept up an entire generation in their wake.” The Guardian
“The Libertines had something of the kitchen sink about them, something of Blake, something of the Clash, something of the Smiths, something of Dickens, something of the fin de siècle dandy… it was an intoxicating combination.” The Independent
In the early 2000s The Libertines blazed a trail through a tired UK music scene reigniting the raw power of British music. Simultaneously literate and rebellious, they burned brightly but briefly, only releasing two albums before imploding. They are now recognised as one of the most exciting and influential bands of the past two decades. Now, in 2014, they are reuniting to play their biggest ever headline show at London’s Hyde Park. Demand for tickets has been so great that capacity has been increased to 65,000.
This is the story of The Libertines
In the late 1990s in the East London squat scene Peter Doherty and Carl Barat, two troubadours and dreamers, meet and bond over music and a common romanticism. They resolve to form a band with a name that reflects their attitude: The Libertines are born.
Early line-ups include a variety of drummers (including Mr Razzcocks, a jazz drummer three decades the pair’s senior) and bass players (including Jonny Borrell, later of Razorlight). The line-up settles with Gary Powell on drums and John Hassall on bass. Recognising that there is something missing from British music at the time, Rough Trade sign them just before Christmas 2001 on the strength of just one gig.
February – March 2002
They support critical hotshots The Strokes on two dates in late February 2002, followed by a tour supporting hotly-tipped Australians The Vines. They are already playing songs that will become anthems: ‘What A Waster’, ‘I Get Along’, ‘Up The Bracket’, ‘Boys In The Band’ and ‘Time For Heroes’.
In interviews people begin to fall under the spell of these fast-talking urchins who are beguiling fans and media alike with intoxicating tales of Albion and Arcadia. They sing and play and live a life that sits in the previously unexplored halfway point between the scuffed urban assault of The Clash and the arch romanticism of The Smiths.
May – June 2002
Former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler comes on board to produce their debut single. ‘What A Waster’/’I Get Along’ is promptly banned by Radio 1, due to its forthright swearing. On its release on the day of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee the band celebrate by playing a gig across the road from Buckingham Palace as an alternative to the massive televised gig in the grounds of the Palace full of tedious backslapping establishment rock stars. For good measure they steal copies of their own single from Virgin Megastore – a feat that’s recorded for posterity, later cropping up on the ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ video. The single hits the UK Top 40 without any airplay. They’re hailed as anti-establishment heroes after just one single.
During the recording of their debut album ‘Up The Bracket’ (produced by Clash legend Mick Jones) Peter and Carl have their first major falling out. A punch-up and a knee to the head later and the band play a Scarborough gig without singer Peter Doherty. Soon reconciled, the first album ‘Up The Bracket’ is completed.
The ‘Up The Bracket’ single goes Top 30. They celebrate by sacking a tour manager for being too strict. The album is a perfect distillation of where they are – a magnificent insight into the world of The Libertines; their passions, hopes and dreams. The album is shot through with great songs and a raw energy that’s seductive. C ritics are beginning to come round to them. In time, though, the album will come to be acknowledged as a classic of the decade by publications including Rolling Stone, Mojo, Uncut, Q, The Times, The Sun, Rock’s BackPages snd Pitchfork.
November 2002 – February 2003
The band tour extensively, including a date supporting Morrissey at Brixton Academy, London and headlining an NME Awards Show. They are awarded Best New Band in The NME Awards. The single ‘Time For Heroes’ reaches number 20 in the UK.
The start arranging small one-off gigs that are advertised earlier the same day on an internet message board. It inspires a whole guerrilla gig movement that captures the imagination of bands and music fans. The most celebrated is a ‘secret’ gig in Pete and Carl’s flat, The Albion Rooms, in East London to a tiny audience. The police arrive to break the gig up and as their boots are pounding up the rickety stairs Pete and Carl serenade their arrival with The Clash’s Guns Of Brixton: “When they kick at your front door/How you gonna come? /With your hands on your head/Or on the trigger of your gun.” The police let them off with a warning.
April – May 2003
The band record new single ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’/’Death On The Stairs’ with producer Bernard Butler. They tour Japan and the US where they appear on the David Letterman Show. Earlier in the day Pete and Carl got their kicks by serenading a bemused but impressed Marilyn Manson. Peter plays a guerrilla solo gig in Gunter Grove west London – the same street where the Pistols’ Johnny Rotten used to squat – the place is packed, hysteria ensues, lives are changed forever and another chapter is written.
Troubles that have been fermenting bubble to the surface. Peter fails to turn up for a European tour after feeling slighted that Carl failed to turn up for a secret gig he had organised. In private, Peter’s drug problems are beginning to spiral out of control. With commitments putting them in an impossible position, the rest of the band press on with the European tour and play the Glastonbury festival, drafting in a guitar tech to stand in for Peter.
Peter feels isolated and resolves to soldier on on his own. There is a breakdown in communication. The rest of the band feel they cannot play with Peter in his current condition, but look forward to him returning when he’s kicked the drugs. They soldier on through a UK tour without him. Many fans are confused why Peter is absent, unaware of the extent of the drug use, blaming Carl and the rest of the band.
On July 25 while the band are abroad a deeply troubled Peter kicks in the door of Carl’s flat and burgles it, taking an antique guitar, video recorder, laptop computer, mouth organ and CD player. He’s arrested and charged.
Peter forms Babyshambles and continues guerrilla gigging. On August 11 Peter’s court hearing is adjourned. ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ is released – it’s The Libertines’ biggest hit to date, reaching number 11 in the UK charts. The band round off the month by playing Reading and Leeds Festival with future member of Dirty Pretty Things, Anthony Rossomando, on guitar.
On 8 September Peter is sentenced to six months in prison for the burglary. There is an outcry at the severity of the sentence. In an appeal at the end of the month the sentence is slashed to two months. He goes to Wandsworth Prison where communication with his bandmates is re-established. He is moved to a less severe prison on the Isle Of Sheppey. A week before his release Carl attempts to visit him but unfortunately misses him as he’s been moved back to Wandsworth in time for his release.
On 10 October Carl resolves to meet his friend at the gates of the prison on his release – not knowing how he will be received. Peter leaves the prison. They see each other, hug and resolve to spend the day together. Peter has a low key Freedom Gig at the Tap N Tin in Chatham in Kent planned for the same night. Without prior announcement, all four members of The Libertines travel to Chatham and reform on the stage of the Tap N Tin. They are received like heroes.
In the weeks that follow they do a flurry of gigs together: Regent’s Park at lunchtime in a quaint bandstand and on the boating lake and then at the Rough Trade 25th Anniversary concert. Legendary record figure Alan Mcgee of Creation and Oasis fame becomes their manager.
A bunch of low-key gigs ensue with new material pouring out. The good vibes around them culminate in
three blistering shows at the Forum in London that climax with a mass stage invasion by fans on the last night.
Following a relatively quiet January spent writing and playing secret gigs, the band win Best British Band at the NME Awards. More secret gigs follow and a full, sold-out, UK tour kicks off. On the first night in Birmingham they unveil two new songs ‘The Saga’ and ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’. They mark a new phase of The Libertines in their painfully autobiographical subject matter.
The band go into Metropolis Recording Studios in west London with Mick Jones and Bill Price (who worked on The Clash’s London Calling and with Guns n’ Roses) to record the second self-titled Libertines album. On 16 March, they play a gig for Love Music Hate Racism at London’s Astoria. The Clash’s Mick Jones joins them for ’Skag And Bone Man’, ’Time For Heroes’, ‘What Katie Did’ and a cover of ’Should I Stay Or Should I Go’. It’s the first time The Clash man has played the punk anthem since the band split in the early 1980s.
Peter collaborates with his friend Wolfman on ‘For Lovers’, the song reaches number seven in the UK singles chart. Peter Perrett of new wave legends The Only Ones joins The Libertines at a secret gig in the Rhythm Factory in East London for a version of ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ and the Only Ones’ new wave classic ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’.
May – June 2004
In May Peter enters the Priory Clinic to attempt to beat his addictions. He spends a week there before quitting and going missing. Not knowing how he will be greeted, Peter turns up at the opening night of Carl’s new club ‘Dirty Pretty Things’ to make peace before he flies to Bangkok to try to kick drugs. The pair are reconciled and the whole band play a glorious short set using borrowed instruments. It will be the last time all four members will play together for over six years.
‘Can’t Stand Me Now’, the first single from the second self-titled album, is released on 9 August. Its extraordinary call and response format brutally details the break-up of Doherty and Barat’s relationship in a form that’s as painfully raw as it unique. The song reaches no 2 in the UK charts. The second album reaches number one in the UK charts.
The Libertines release their final single (to date), The Likely Lads on 25 October, It gets to number 9. It is shot through with nostalgia, picking over the debris of Doherty and Barat’s broken relationship.
The Libertines play their last scheduled show in Paris (without Peter) on 17 December as Barat dissolves the band, seemingly forever.
The former Libertines bandmates focus on new bands and projects. Peter Doherty releases two albums with Babyshambles (Down In Albion (2005) & Shotter’s Nation (2007)), a book (The Books Of Albion (2007) and a solo album (Grace/Wastelands (2009)). His relationship with model Kate Moss makes him prime tabloid fodder for a time.
Carl Barat and Gary Powell form Dirty Pretty Things and release two albums (Waterloo To Anywhere (2006) & Romance At Short Notice (2008)). Gary also plays with a range of artists including the New York Dolls. John Hassall releases an album with his band Yeti (The Legend Of Yeti Gonzales (2008)). In 2007 Time For Heroes – The Best Of The Libertines is released. The legend of The Libertines continues to grow.
On 31 March The Libertines call a press conference at the Boogaloo Bar in North London to announce their intention to reform to play the main stage at the Reading & Leeds festivals. They play an impromptu acoustic set. They play two warm-up shows at the Kentish Town Forum, which are rapturously received by fans and critics alike, as are their sets at Reading and Leeds as thousands of fans finally get the chance to see the band they thought they’d never see.
Putting aside The libertines, Carl Barat releases his self-titled debut solo album (2010) and published his autobiography (Threepenny Memoir: The Lives of a Libertine). Doherty’s Babyshambles release new album Sequel To The Prequel (2013). They both appear in films and Carl is in a successful stage play. John Hassall forms a new band The April Rainers and Gary Powell plays with a range of artists including Ed Harcourt and his own band, The Invasion Of…
In 2012 The Libertines are the subject of a critically acclaimed documentary, There Are No Innocent Bystanders by photographer Roger Sargent.
In February Carl recruits his new band the Jackals via social media and in May and June films his first starring role in the film For This is my Body. Filmed in France and directed by Paule Muret to be released in 2015.
On 20 April 2014 a tantalising image is posted on The Libertines Facebook page: a 17th century map of Hyde Park. Soon after, it is announced that The Libertines are reuniting to play Hyde Park on 5 July 2014. Demand for tickets is so great that capacity is increased from 45,000 to 65,000 which soon sells out.
Peter publishes his second volume of journals, From Albion To Shangri-La in July.
After the triumph of Hyde Park the band headline European Festivals in Spain (Benicassim) and Portugal (Optimus Alive) and sell out three nights at Alexandra Palace (26th, 27th & 28th September). They also play their first European Tour in ten years with shows in Paris, Berlin, Brussels, Amsterdam and Dusseldorf.
October – Peter enters re-hab in Thailand (where he stays for three months) and is joined by Carl for a week in November to write new Libertines songs.
December 5th Thailand – Peter Doherty, Carl Barat, John Hasasall and Gary Powell sign a worldwide recording deal with Virgin EMI. Whilst in Thailand the band continue with more song writing sessions.
January – Carl travels to Thailand to meet with Peter and demo songs for the new Libertines album at Karma Sound Studios.
January 29th The Libertines announce they will be headlining at T in the Park Festival at Strathallan Castle in Scotland on the weekend of July 10th-12th.
Carl Barat & The Jackals release their debut album ‘Let It Reign’ on February 16th.
Peter Doherty releases a single Flags Of The Old Regime (March 9th). The song is about his friend Amy Winehouse and all proceeds go to the Amy Winehouse Foundation.
A new chapter has begun.